Shadowfell by Juliet Marillier

I am on the record for not liking creatures in books and movies, so imagine my surprise when I entered the world of many such beings in Juliet Marillier’s Shadowfell, only to find that I enjoyed them, and it, immensely. Marillier’s novel introduces readers to 15-year-old Neryn, a teen-aged girl from Alban who has seen her home destroyed, her family killed, and her own separation from her father (the last of her family) in a stunning act of betrayal.

Shadowfell has one of the most harrowing opening scenes I’ve read this year, and Neryn has to decide whether she trusts Flint, the mysterious man who comes to her aid, with the fact that she has “canny” skills and can see and communicate with the Fey creatures living among humans. Magical skills and others like it are forbidden by Alban’s  despotic ruler, Keldec -unless of course you are one of his loyal followers using your power for his benefit. Neryn longs to go north to Shadowfell, where she has heard that a rebellion is being staged against the King. Chief among her concerns is whether she can make it there alone or if she can trust Flint to help here get there safely.

Marillier has written an engaging first entry in a trilogy exploring the bonds between humans and mythic creatures of early days Scotland. Marillier convincingly builds a world in need of a revolution and a new leader. Alban’s scared inhabitants have isolated themselves and turned on one another in fear of their King. Neryn is on a quest to find herself, and on her journey has to embrace the strength of her expanding power to communicate with the Good Folk and the courage that it takes to be true to herself.

Marillier takes care with the details of showing Neryn debating on whom she can trust, how to survive the harsh wildsand bad weather, while slowly embracing her gifts and befriending a variety of the creatures of the woods who become her friends. Her complex relationship with Flint, plagued by questions of his allegiance to King or revolution, develops in a satisfying manner. Neryn is, first and foremost, a young woman who has essentially raised herself under considerably difficult circumstances. Neryn’s history is revealed in tandem with the rich history and traditions of the land and its people.

Shadowfell is rich in Scottish history and folk culture, and has strong characters committed to doing the best they can, taking responsibility for the good and the bad in their natures and in their actions. I look forward to the unfolding of the trilogy as they struggle with the price for peace and how best to make its exacting payment. Recommended.

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